When Hayden Panettiere looks in the mirror, she doesn't see Taylor Swift.
Yes, they're both young, pretty and blonde.
But Panettiere, who plays a rising country music star in ABC's Nashville, insists that any similarities to Swift end there.
Juliette Barnes, Panettiere's character, is an awful human being. She hasn't really got the raw talent it takes to cut it in Music City USA, and she hasn't paid her dues. But she's determined to climb her way to the very top and she doesn't care who she has to step on or sleep with to get there.
"My character is very edgy," Panettiere says. "She comes off very diva-ish and bratty and snotty."
In no way, the actress adds, is she using Swift as a model. "She's much nicer than my character."
But now viewers can decide for themselves. Nashville, a juicy prime-time soap that's one of the most promising new shows of 2012, premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
And you know what? It's kind of fun to think of Juliette Barnes as a warped funhouse-mirror version of Swift, where reality is grossly distorted yet there's still perhaps a kernel of truth in what we see.
Something similar is happening with the other main character in Nashville.
Connie Britton plays Rayna Jaymes, a beloved living legend in the country-music community who feels Juliette nipping at her heels in an All About Eve way. Rayna's new album is tanking and ticket sales for her upcoming concert tour are way down, leaving an opening for conniving Juliette to strike.
Like Panettiere, Britton insists she isn't basing her character on any specific person.
But try telling that to Reba McEntire. It so happens that the two bumped into one another on an airplane a few months ago and Reba told Britton, "Did you hear that you're gonna play me on the show?"
Maybe it's the fact that they're both redheads. If Britton were a blonde, maybe Faith Hill would be convinced that she's the inspiration for the Rayna character.
"For me," Britton maintains, "it's an amalgam of a lot of different people."
There are other dramas playing out against the backdrop of Music City, including Rayna's father (played by Powers Booth) exploiting Rayna's husband (Eric Close) in a barefaced grasp for political power.
But the Rayna-versus-Juliette showdown is the headline act, at least in the early going.
"Truthfully, there's not actually very much of a relationship between Rayna and Juliette, at least in the beginning, other than one where they are kind of representing different sides of music and different points of view," Britton says. "What I'm imagining we'll end up seeing is that their lives are going to become more intertwined in some way. And there will probably be some conflict."
Perhaps even a good, old-fashioned, soap-opera-style catfight is in their future. In the premiere, after all, the two certainly traded catty remarks.
That said, Panettiere promises that all the characters have the capacity to surprise, that there's more to them than first impressions.
With Juliette, for example, Panettiere says, "I'm not stuck in playing one specific note all the time. She's got her moments where she is, oh, my gosh, sassy and snarky and definitely the you-know-what. And it can be really, really fun to play.
"But then she does have the other side where you see that she is just a hurting young girl who has a very dark past, who feels very lonely, very unloved, and escapes into this world of country music and finds these things, these very unhealthy things, to help fill this void in her."
Panettiere is also making a promise to viewers. She says they don't have to love country music to love this show.
The reason Nashville is such good storytelling, she maintains, is that country music itself is populated by so many great storytellers.
"You see singer-songwriters perform here and every song they sing, they'll tell you a little story about why they wrote it, what they were feeling at the time," Panettiere says. "You can kind of go on these journeys with them: good, bad, ugly, and just raw human emotion."